Adjournment Debate in Seanad Éireann on learner drivers

16th December, 2014

“The need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to address the issue of young people living in Rural Areas and in the absence of Public Transport, are dependent on a car to get to work and who are unable to drive alone as a learner driver.”

Senator Marie Moloney


Response by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD


I would like to thank Senator Moloney for raising this issue.


In any modern country, the driver licensing system is one of the most important foundations of safety on roads. Driving is not a right. It is a privilege which must be earned, and it is earned by learning and proving a capacity to control a mechanically propelled vehicle safely on public roads.


The system of driver licensing which we operate in Ireland has come a very long way over the past decade.  Ten years ago, anyone could fill out a form and get out on the roads without any prior testing of any sort. We allowed learners to drive unaccompanied, and we had, as a consequence, an enormous number of drivers who did not seem concerned even to take the driving test.


Ireland now has in place a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) system.  This is a stepped approach to the driver learning process which focuses on the acquisition of skills and experience rather than simply on passing a test. The first step to introducing a GDL was taken in the Road Traffic Act 2006, which replaced the old provisional licence with the learner permit. This is not just a change of name. Under Irish law it is an offence to drive without a licence. A provisional licence was a licence, but a learner permit is not.  It is a permit to drive while learning, subject to certain conditions. These conditions include displaying an L-Plate and having a qualified accompanying driver.  This is worth remembering – a learner permit holder who is not complying with their permit conditions is not covered by it.


Since 2006, we have progressively introduced other GDL measures. These include lower blood alcohol limits for learners and recently qualified drivers, and compulsory lessons for learner drivers. Most recently, I introduced measures this year to require novice drivers to display an N-Plate and set a disqualification threshold of seven penalty points for learners and novices rather than twelve points which previously applied.


The ultimate purpose of the GDL is to save lives.

We have seen a dramatic reduction in road deaths over the past decade.  Unfortunately, the downward trend was reversed last year, and present indications are the death toll for this year will be similar to last year.

GDL aims to improve the quality of driving of our young drivers and, in time, of all drivers.


We know that there is a particularly high risk of collisions, deaths and injuries among learner drivers, particularly the high-risk 17 to 24 year olds.  GDL systems generally place a range of restrictions on learner drivers, which also apply for a period, usually two years after passing a driving test. Learner drivers are vulnerable road users and face greater risks and challenges due to their inexperience. Evidence suggests that the best way to reduce risk is to introduce measures that are designed to protect them until they have built up enough experience.


The regulations to give effect to the learner permit system were made in October 2007.  These regulations provided for –

  • the replacement of the provisional licence with a learner permit,
  • learner permit holders having to be accompanied by a driver who holds a full driving licence for at least two years,
  • first time learner permit holders not being entitled to undertake a driving test for six months after gaining their learner permit, and
  • learner motorcyclists having to display the letter L on a yellow fluorescent tabard.


The changes which came into place as of 8 December last do not create a new offence.


Since the learner permit was created it has always been an offence to drive without an L-Plate and without an accompanying driver. What has changed is that people committing these offences will now receive penalty points. The purpose of these regulations is to improve road safety and save lives, reduce the number of collisions, deaths and injuries among inexperienced drivers.


I appreciate that the restrictions on learners may create difficulties for some people, but our overriding consideration must always be safety, for learners themselves and for other road users.